In today’s world, we have one of the highest standards of living that anyone has ever witnessed. Better medical treatments, better transport, better education services, infrastructure, opportunities, and whatnot, and yet, there is suffering everywhere. What exactly is going wrong?
If you take a look at the statistics, in a given year almost 30 percent of the adult population will suffer from some kind of psychiatric disorder. In any given week, one-tenth of the adult population is suffering from clinical depression, and one in five people will suffer from it at some point in their lifetime. What is even more startling, is the fact that almost one in two people would actually consider suicide as an option to end their miseries. Scarier still, one in ten of these adults will actually attempt to kill themselves!
Just ponder upon these numbers and think about the people in your life, your friends, family, and co-workers. Considering these figures, of all the people that we know, almost half of them will at some point be so overwhelmed by the misery that they will seriously contemplate suicide.
Globally, close to 800,000 people die from suicide every year. That’s one person every 40 seconds. For every person who dies, 20 more have attempted suicide. Due to the stigma associated with suicide and the fact that it is illegal in some countries – this figure is also likely to be an underestimate, with some suicides being classified as unintentional injuries or accidents. This certainly gives us a clear answer that happiness is not as normal as people think it is.
So why is it so difficult to be happy?
Let’s take a journey back in time! Our modern mind, with its amazing ability to analyze, plan, create, and communicate has evolved over the last couple of hundred thousand years since our species Homo Sapiens first appeared. But our minds did not evolve to make us feel good, grow in our careers, have fun, or say ‘I love you’. Our minds evolved to help us survive in this dangerous vicious world.
Imagine you are an early hunter-gatherer, What are your most essential needs to survive and reproduce? They are food, water, shelter, and sex, but none of them would mean anything if you’re dead. So the number one priority of the primitive human mind was to look out for anything that seemed dangerous and could harm us. The mind was basically a ‘Don’t get Killed’ device and the better our ancestors became at anticipating and avoiding danger, the longer they lived and reproduced.
As the generations passed by, we became even more skilled at predicting and avoiding danger. And now, after more than a hundred thousand years of evolution, the modern mind is more skilled than ever to constantly lookout for trouble.
It assesses and judges almost everything that we encounter in our daily lives, is it safe? is it good for me? will it be harmful or helpful? Though these days we don’t have to worry about wild predators or unannounced bad climates, instead it’s losing our jobs, getting rejected by someone, comparing ourselves with others, embarrassing ourselves in front of others, not being able to pay our bills or a million other common worries.
As a result, we worry a hell lot about going through all the possible scenarios of things going bad, things that more often than not would never happen.
Another essential element for the survival of early humans was to belong to a group. If your clan throws you out, it won’t be long enough before the wolves find you and rip you to pieces.
So how does your mind helps you not get evicted by the group? You guessed it right! Or did you? Well, it compares you to other members of the clan, bombarding you with self-doubt questions like Am I fitting in? Am I contributing enough? Am I as good as others? Am I doing anything that might get me rejected?
Sounds familiar, isn’t it?
Our modern minds are continuously warning us of rejection and comparing us against the rest of society. No wonder we spend so much of our energy worrying whether people like us. A hundred thousand years ago, we just had a few people in our clan to compare ourselves to, but these days, thanks to the social media world, magazines, and televisions, we can instantly find a myriad of people who are smarter, richer, taller, slimmer, sexier, more famous, more successful or more admired than we are.
With the world in our hands, we are bound to feel a little depressed by all this. Also, cheers to evolution, our minds are now so sophisticated enough that they can even dream up a fantasy of the person we’d like to be and then compare our ‘real’ self to that impossible standard. What chance have we got? We will always end up feeling not good enough!
Now, for any stone-age person with a little ambition, he would aspire for MORE. MORE sophisticated your weapons, the MORE food you can kill, MORE food, the better the chance to survive through scarcity.
The MORE substantial your shelter, the safer you are from weather and wild animals. The MORE children you have, the better the chance that some of them will survive into adulthood.
No surprise then, that our modern mind continually looks for MORE: MORE money, MORE status, MORE love, more job satisfaction, a newer car, a younger-looking body, a younger-looking partner, and a bigger house. And if do end up succeeding with any of the above, then we’re satisfied – for a while. But sooner or later (usually sooner), we end up wanting MORE.
Thus, evolution has shaped our minds so that we are almost inevitably destined to suffer psychologically: to compare, evaluate and criticize ourselves; to focus on what we’re lacking; to be dissatisfied with what we have; and to imagine all sorts of frightening scenarios, most of which will never happen. No wonder humans find it hard to be happy!
I am re-reading one of my favorite books, The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris. These above analogies were from this book. As I keep reading, I will keep writing about the stuff that I feel would help everyone not fall into the happiness trap.
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